Ranking The Teams #6-1, My Version: Super Six?

I understand, this a little late, as Opening Day was Thursday, and the Red Sox didn’t look so great Thursday even though they are a part of this Top 6.  But I figured I’d finish this series since there’s only one article left.

Welcome to the final article of my 2019 MLB preseason power rankings.  This season, you could argue the Super Seven that was discussed a few years back still exists, except with different teams.  The Red Sox, Cubs, Astros, and Yankees have remained elite, and despite declines by the Nationals, Indians, and Dodgers (probably) , new powerhouses in this league have arised.  The Braves should be regular contenders now, the Cardinals could make a run with 1B Paul Goldschmidt here for the long run, and the Phillies should be competitive with Bryce Harper.  But Philadelphia isn’t quite on the level of these other teams.  So unless the Dodgers do stay elite after all, I think the Super Seven will become a Super Six.  I will be discussing those six today and pointing out the Achilles Heel of each team. Click the links below for other articles in the series (I will add them as I post them):

 

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2019 MLB Preseason Power Rankings Series:

Ranking The Teams #30-25, My Version: The Bottom of the Barrel

Ranking The Teams #24-19, My Version: Who will have to Wait till Next Year?

Ranking The Teams #18-13, My Version: Who else Misses out on Playoff Contention?

Ranking The Teams #12-7, My Version: Who has Playoff Chances?

Ranking The Teams #6-1, My Version: Super Six?

I also released my 3rd annual preseason Baseball Bits!

 

6. St_Louis_Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals

The Case for the Cardinals

The Cardinals haven’t made the playoffs in a few years, sure. But the veterans they kept around from their last playoff run, like Matt Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Yadier Molina, are still reliable contributors. They have also boosted the team with younger talent, including SP Jack Flaherty, OFs Harrison Bader and UT Jose Martinez, and SS Paul DeJong. After adding star in Goldy, the Cardinals have the tools they need for contention. But how far can they go in such a tough division? They will have to get past their division rivals that are also contending, the Cubs and Brewers.

The Achilles Heel

The Cards’ rotation looks alright and its young core will keep the rotation elite for a long time.  But right now they lack an ace.  I don’t believe they can be a World Series contender without one.  Whether they need a trade to find an ace or someone steps up as time passes, this could hold them back from serious contention and should be priority #1 for GM Steve Keim.  Maybe Martinez could be a good trade piece now that 1B Paul Goldschmidt is on board.

Projected Finish: 93-69, 2nd in NL Central

5. boston-red-sox Boston Red Sox

The Case for the Red Sox

The defending World Series champions had a relatively quiet off-season. They did retain most of the team from 2018 that won 108 games. But the bullpen has been their biggest issue, even with Craig Kimbrel. Without Craig Kimbrel, there is even more pressure on the rotation to succeed. This is especially true regarding Chris Sale and David Price. After Sale’s extension, both will be expected to to shine every start in order to be worth the money. Each start costs about $1 million dollars. Regardless of this pressure, the Red Sox should at least secure a Wild Card spot if they can’t beat out the Yankees in the AL East. They are still one of several powerhouses in the league.

The Achilles Heel

With Craig Kimbrel on the way out, the closer role is up for grabs.  But if you look at the active pitchers on the roster, it’s hard to imagine any of them as a consistent closer.  If the Red Sox wanted to repeat, they would’ve invested more in this bullpen rather than focusing so much on the rotation.  They need to add a closer unless Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, or someone else steps up soon.

Projected Finish: 93-69, 2nd in AL East

 

4. atlanta-braves Atlanta Braves

The Case for the Braves

The Braves’ rebuild began to pay off last season as their younger players broke through. This off-season seemed quiet, but they filled a gaping hole at third by adding Josh Donaldson. They also brought back OF Nick Markakis, and they have reportedly been targeting a reunion with CL Craig Kimbrel. This small series of moves could make a big difference in Atlanta. These moves, alongside development of OF Ronald Acuna Jr. and 2B Ozzie Albies among other should transform the Braves from solely a division contender into a World Series contender. The Braves are my World Series winner this year. I expect 1B Freddie Freeman, Albies, Donaldson, and others to combine to make for one of the best lineups in the league.

The Achilles Heel

Health is definitely a concern, especially considering the fact that Atlanta will start the 2019 season with two starting pitchers on the IL.  Donaldson is also injury prone, and if he goes down, Johan Camargo is the next best option at third base.  I don’t trust Camargo as a starter.  If the team stays healthy in the long run, they could be serious contenders.  Otherwise, they could be in a bit of trouble.

Projected Finish: 93-69, 1st in NL East

 

3. Chicago_Cubs Chicago Cubs

The Case for the Cubs

The Cubs may have been quiet this off-season, but a healthy Yu Darvish will boost the rotation, the bullpen has plenty of depth despite questions at closer, and the lineup is looking pretty solid. Their decision to move Javier Baez to shortstop full time and put Ben Zobrist at second is very smart, as SS Addison Russell was inconsistent and had some character issues. The Cubs have dominated in the National League ever since their World Series winning year in 2016, but with a health a concern and the division getting tougher, will the Cubs be able to keep up the good work?

The Achilles Heel

The Cubs were unable to do much this off-season, and they could have used another outfielder.  LF Kyle Schwarber and RF Jason Heyward are viable starters, but they are very streaky and inconsistent.  Albert Almora Jr. is the best option in center field.  Chicago should have added another center fielder to start over Almora some days and fill in for Heyward and Schwarber during slumps.

Projected Finish: 94-68, 1st in NL Central

 

2. new-york-yankees New York Yankees

The Case for the Yankees

After pairing new slugger Aaron Judge with Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees underperformed in 2018. Yes, they made the playoffs and won 100 games. But they were overshadowed and eliminated by their bitter rival, the Boston Red Sox. This year, the Red Sox will be without their star closer, while the Yankees fixed up a problematic rotation and built one of the most stacked bullpens in history. This will allow the Yankees to propel past the Red Sox and win the AL East. But in Boston and New York, it’s all about championships, and the Yankees aren’t will have to work for a World Series victory, even with the stacked roster.

The Achilles Heel

The Yanks have some nice pieces in their infield.  But if Troy Tulowitzki and Greg Bird fail to stay healthy, they are left with D.J. LeMahieu as their best infielder.  Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar have not reached their prime yet, and Luke Voit must still prove that 2018 was not a fluke.  So I’m a bit concerned in terms of infield depth for the Yankees.

Projected Finish: 94-68, 1st in AL East

 

1. houston-astros Houston Astros

The Case for the Astros

The Astros are two years removed from their World Series victory, a result of a 5-year rebuild that made the Astros one of the MLB’s worst for a good 2-3 year span. Now, the Astros are still one of the league’s elite teams, but they lost some of their starting rotation depth this off-season, forcing two starter-turned-relievers back into the rotation. They did bring in OF Michael Brantley and UT Aledmys Diaz, filling the hole UT Marwin Gonzalez left. Though Houston took a slight step back this off-season, I still have them as my AL West winners and the team with the best regular season record. Considering the young core they have put together in the last several years, they should be elite for a long, long, time now.

The Achilles Heel

Evan Gattis is no longer on the team, which means Tyler White must be trusted as Houston’s regular DH.  This could be a prove-it situation for White, but if White struggles, what then?  They could bring Gattis back, or they could just put Diaz back there.  They could even call up Kyle Tucker to play DH.  This one’s an easy fix, just something to keep an eye on.

Projected Finish: 96-66, 1st in AL West

That’s all for this year’s preseason MLB power rankings.  Come back at the end of April  for my first 2019 set of monthly power rankings.

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Scouting Report: Atlanta Braves

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The Braves are still clearly in rebuilding stages, but have a very strong farm system and topped it off with a few veterans.  Their roster looks to be a good mixture of older guys and top prospects ready to take over the majors.  The choice of veterans might be a problem though, some because they only have a few years left before retirement, some just don’t have it anymore, some never have had much and some just aren’t the right fit.  Here’s a breakdown of how the Braves tackled the off season.
Off-Season Review
The Braves clearly weren’t going after any big name free agents, but they needed to fill up the patchy spots in their young team, and unfortunately, some of that had to be done by signing veteran free agents.  They did as much as they could via trade, but got desperate at times.
They started by quickly resigning their catcher, A.J. Pierzynski.  This was mandatory as they didn’t have many other options.  Then they hit the trade market.
They started by swapping shortstops with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Basically, they traded Andrelton Simmons to the Angels for Erick Aybar.  But the full move is a lot more complicated.  They additionally traded a prospect of theirs, Jose Briceno, and got Aybar tied to prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis plus cash.
Just one week later, they sold centerfielder Cameron Maybin to the Tigers for relievers Ian Krol and Gabe Speier.  They signed some more free agents as the non-tender deadline approached.
Starter Bud Norris, reliever Jim Johnson, and after the deadline, David Holmberg, Gordon Beckham and Emilio Bonifacio were signed.  A couple days later, they got Jose Ramirez from Seattle for a PTBNL and cash.  The next week they got D-Backs No. 1 prospect Dansby Swanson with outfielder Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair for Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier.
The next day they traded Christian Bethancourt to the Padres for Casey Kelly and a prospect.  On December 16, they signed Tyler Flowers to replace Bethancourt as backup catcher.  On January 7th they brought in Alexi Ogando, Kyle Kendrick, Ryan Kelly, Alex Torres, Jhoulys Chacin and Ozzie Albies to minor league deals and spring training invites.  The next day they signed infielder Kelly Johnson to a major league deal.
Carlos Torres and Jeff Francouer also got later minors deals and invitations towards the end of the off season.
The Braves spent the late off season on a bunch of free agent veterans, most on minors deals, but the trades they made early in the off season will really pay off.
Spring Training Storylines
How will the new rotation be?
The new rotation won’t be great, but if things go right, it can go uphill from last year.  Mike Foltynewicz and Matt Wisler need to have good seasons and start emerging into the higher rotation positions they have been put into.  Bud Norris and Kyle Kendrick need to have a big bounce back year, unless David Holmberg or Williams Perez can handle a rotation spot.  The rotation doing well really depends on the older players looking like they did back when they were younger.
Will the veterans pay off?
Depends on the veteran.  Really, this is just going to have to be a prediction.  I think Alexi Ogando and Carlos Torres have a lot of potential to take good major league relief roles this season.  I personally believe in Emilio Bonifacio fitting in nicely.  I think Bud Norris can kick some serious butt again.  For vets they already had at the trade deadline, I think Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher are underrated and could be in starting positions.
The Braves have some veterans with a lot of potential, but some like Gordon Beckham, Kyle Kendrick and Alex Torres have never had anything that impressed me and need to prove to me that they can fit well into their positions. Otherwise, I have them spending some time in the minors.  But they have a good chunk of vets that could boost the team.
The only issue is, when the prospects are ready to hit the majors, will they be better?  We won’t know unless they sit quality vets, which could be an issue.  We could never know.
When can we expect the prospects in the majors?
Guys like Dansby Swanson and Sean Newcomb could make their debuts by June, especially if the veterans don’t pay off.  But in the positions where the Braves have good and developed, but young players, the prospects in those spots might get some more insurance and may not appear till September.
Who are some key non-roster invitees?
Personally, I think this is a similar question to the last one.  My list includes relievers Alexi Ogando and Carlos Torres along with some other pitchers young and old, catcher Ryan Lavarnway, who has seen Braves major league time, young infield prospects Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, and outfielder Jeff Francouer.  There are many more, but these guys highlight my list.
Which trades did they win and which one will pay off most?
Some trades they won, others they didn’t.  They clearly won the one with the D-Backs where they acquired Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte, despite giving up Shelby Miller.
The one with the Tigers was questionable, Gabe Speier was later traded again, so it was basically Maybin for Krol, which the Tigers clearly win.
The Jose Ramirez trade wasn’t necessary, even though they barely gave up anything, and the shortstop swap was a win because of the additional acquisition of Sean Newcomb.  The Christian Bethancourt trade was a win, cause Bethancourt didn’t develop as expected and they got some pitching insurance in their farm system.
The best trade for the Braves was the D-Backs one, it helps both their farm system and their major league roster.
So, I think that’s about all for what to watch for in spring training now for my roster and record projection.

Atlanta Braves Projected Roster

Rotation                            Bullpen
Julio Teheran                   Jason Grilli (CL)
Bud Norris                       Williams Perez
Mike Foltynewicz          Jim Johnson
Matt Wisler                     Ian Krol
Kyle Kendrick                 Jhoulys Chacin
                                           Alexi Ogando
                                           Carlos Torres
Lineup                                   Bench
C: A.J. Pierzynski               Tyler Flowers
1B: Freddie Freeman         Jace Peterson
2B: Gordon Beckham       Ender Inciarte
SS: Erick Aybar                   Emilio Bonifacio
3B: Kelly Johnson               Jeff Francouer
LF: Nick Swisher
CF: Michael Bourn
RF: Nick Markakis
Projected Record: 66-96
So that’s all for today.  Catch my Orioles scouting report later today!